After retetrising (I’ve just inventing a new word) our luggage into the car and saying farewell to our delightful Air BnB host we headed south to the Hobbiton movie set. We were grateful that I’d thought to check the Hobbiton website a few days prior, as I snapped up the only available booking time for the week ahead. Phew! Dan and I are big fans of the Lord of the Rings books and movies, and Clare has also read The Hobbit. Stella hasn’t read any of the books or seen the films (the films are definitely not suitable for her age group) but she was still quite keen to see the ‘little village’.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit, here’s a summary via Wikipedia. The Lord of the Rings is an epic high fantasy novel written by English author and scholar J. R. R. Tolkien. The story began as a sequel to Tolkien’s 1937 fantasy novel The Hobbit, but eventually developed into a much larger work. Written in stages between 1937 and 1949, The Lord of the Rings is one of the best-selling novels ever written, with over 150 million copies sold.
The title of the novel refers to the story’s main antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron,[note 1] who had in an earlier age created the One Ringto rule the other Rings of Power as the ultimate weapon in his campaign to conquer and rule all of Middle-earth. From quiet beginnings in the Shire, a hobbit land not unlike the English countryside, the story ranges across Middle-earth, following the course of the War of the Ring through the eyes of its characters, not only the hobbits Frodo Baggins, Samwise “Sam” Gamgee, Meriadoc “Merry” Brandybuck and Peregrin “Pippin” Took, but also the hobbits’ chief allies and travelling companions: the Men Aragorn son of Arathorn, a Ranger of the North, and Boromir, a Captain of Gondor; Gimli son of Glóin, a Dwarf warrior; Legolas Greenleaf, an Elven prince; and Gandalf, a Wizard.
Miramax Films developed a full-fledged live action adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, with Peter Jackson as director. The three films were shot simultaneously. They featured extensive computer-generated imagery, including major battle scenes. The first film subtitled, The Fellowship of the Ring was released on December 19, 2001, the second film subtitled, The Two Towers on December 18, 2002 and the third film subtitled, The Return of the King worldwide on December 17, 2003. The films were met with both critical and commercial success.
The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is verified to be the currently highest grossing motion picture trilogy worldwide of all time, evidenced by its earning close to $3-billion (US). The film trilogy also set a record for the total number of Academy Awards won, tallying a total of seventeen Oscars. Critical acclaim has commonly hailed the trilogy as “the greatest films of our era,” and “the trilogy will not soon, if ever, find its equal.”
A three-part prequel based on The Hobbit and directed by Peter Jackson was released between 2012 and 2014. The three films are subtitled An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies. As with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the prequel movies were filmed back to back in New Zealand; principal photography began on 21 March 2011. The first film was released on 14 December 2012, the second was released on 13 December 2013, and the third was released on 17 December 2014.
The tour of the film set was superb. As you can see from the photos there was rain threatening the entire time we were there, but it stayed light enough for us to enjoy our visit. Our guide was entertaining and highly informative. The following paragraphs are from the Hobbiton Movie Set website.
In 1998, Sir Peter Jackson’s team of location scouts were searching for the iconic rolling hills and lush green pastures of Hobbiton™. An aerial search led them to the Alexander farm, a stunning 1,250 acre sheep farm in the heart of the Waikato. They noted the area’s striking similarity to The Shire™, as described by JRR Tolkien, and quickly realised that the Hobbits™ had found a home.
In one particular part of the farm, a magnificent pine tree towered over a nearby lake, adjacent to a rising hill. Bag End now sits atop that hill, overlooking the Party Tree, as that pine would later be known. The surrounding areas were untouched; no power lines, no buildings and no roads in sight. This meant that Sir Peter Jackson could leave the 20th century behind, and fully submerge himself in the fantasy world of Middle-earth™.
In March 1999 the crew began the nine month quest to bring the ideas for Hobbiton to fruition; help was provided by the New Zealand Army, and soon 39 temporary Hobbit Holes™ were scattered across the 12 acre plot used for the set. Secrecy was key, and strict security measures were put in place by the production company throughout construction and filming. Filming commenced in December 1999, and it took around three months to get a wrap on The Shire.
After an initial attempt at demolition, 17 bare plywood facades remained. These shells would serve as the catalyst that propelled Hobbiton forward into the public eye, with guided tours commencing in 2002.
In 2009, Sir Peter Jackson returned to film The Hobbit trilogy, and he left behind the beautiful movie set you’ll see today; 44 permanently reconstructed Hobbit Holes, in the same fantastic detail seen in the movies. In 2012 The Green Dragon™ Inn was opened as the finale to the journey. Guests now finish their Hobbiton Movie Set experience with a refreshing beverage from the Hobbit™ Southfarthing™ Range. There’s an abundance of movie magic nestled inside the fully operational farm.
As always, I enjoyed hearing logistical information about set construction and about filming (I always love a factory tour)! We learned about forced perspective, about how a smaller younger version of the oak tree above Bilbo’s house was constructed by hand for the Hobbit trilogy, and that all the hobbit holes at Hobbiton were used for exterior shots only. All indoor scenes were filmed on sound stages.
At one stage our guide told us that The Lord Of The Rings trilogy were the second most read books in the English speaking world. He then asked what we thought the most read book was. Stella quickly replied ‘Harry Potter’! (It is the Bible, for those of you who didn’t know).
The entire family enjoyed our time at Hobbiton – including the glass of ale/cider/ginger beer at the pub at the end of the tour! I highly recommend it if you’re nearby – but do make certain to book ahead.
From Hobbiton we ventured on to Rotorua and checked in to Cosy Cottage Thermal Holiday Park. We were delighted to discover that in addition to a very comfortable cabin the facilities included a hangi facility, bubbling mud, hot mineral pools, and a lake just a minute’s walk away. The park is situated in a thermal area, and although the lake is cold, when you dig into the sand beside it hot water comes bubbling up – so hot that you need to mix it with the cold lake water!
My parents took my brother and I on a family holiday to New Zealand when I was about 12 or 13. I have very strong memories of Rotorua being a unique and fascinating place – and so far that still seems to be the case!